How does something become so normal no one even questions it? Something like shampooing daily, or eating whole wheat bread, or paying $3 (!!!) for a coffee?
The process is gradual. Some people start doing it, then others join the crowd — or are prodded to join — and eventually what was once unusual becomes the norm.
And many of those norms are great! Viva flossing! But some norms aren’t. Some are excessive, onerous, expensive or ridiculous activities that get woven into everyday life without our noticing. That’s what is happening with taking our kids out of the car, even when convenience (not a dirty word!) and actual safety dictate that letting them wait there a few minutes makes more sense. Hence, this note:
Dear Free-Range Kids: In Connecticut, I haul our 2-year-old out of her carseat and into the school cafeteria to pick up our 5-year-old at the after school care program I park directly outside the cafeteria, which has wide windows. The vehicle is never out of my sight and I’m inside for 5 minutes at most. On a rainy or snowy day (like today) it’s a real pain and the whole pickup would go faster if I didn’t have to go through the process of unbuckling, carrying her in, corralling her inside while the big kid gets her stuff, carrying her back out, and then having to strap the little one back in.
I do this because we live in a town where a couple of years ago the cops arrested a mother for leaving a very non-distressed 11-year-old in the car at the child’s request while she ran into a pharmacy, and I occasionally see a police cruiser in the school parking lot while a cop does paperwork. I don’t think our 2-year-old would be harmed in any way by staying in a 5-point harness in a comfortably warm, locked car on a snowy day for 5 minutes while I run in to get her sister – but there’s no way I’m willing to risk it.
I don’t blame the mom for her worries about the cops. I blame the cops and CPS and lawmakers for creating this worry. How dare they second-guess parents who love their kids dearly and are making the kind of decision they are quite capable of making: Does doing X or Y make sense for my family?
Letting the authorities prod us into kabuki-like displays of parental responsibility is not something we can allow. In 20 years, it should not be normal to calculate first and foremost, “How will this look to the cops?” when we are deciding how to raise our kids — whether we will let them walk to school, ride their bikes, play outside or wait in the car.
We are the parents. Not the cops. Not CPS. Not even social norms.
I get a lot of notes from parents who cut and paste Facebook posts going on in their neighborhood about, “Can you believe this mom did XYZ?” followed by a pile-on of calumny. If you can stand it, try to add your own respectful point of view, so it doesn’t seem as if EVERYBODY is kowtowing to this age of fear and overreaction.
Good luck! – L.